Kelley Quan-McIntyre is a highly accomplished and creative freelance makeup artist living in the Hudson Valley. In addition to her years of makeup experience, she is also the founder of her own line of namesake vegan beauty tools – Kelley Quan NY – and the co-founder of The Registry Creatives, a registry and Zine for high-level creatives in the Hudson Valley. I talked to Kelley to learn more about her story, her career, and her relationship with the Hudson Valley. Read on to learn more about Kelley’s story!
So you were born in Canada — may I ask where and how long you lived there?
Yes. I was born in Vancouver and I lived there until I graduated from college – so undergrad – and then I went down to Los Angeles. My best friend was there so I just went for a visit, not really thinking of moving.
And then I ended up meeting some really incredible people. My friend ended up working for a pretty big photographer of the day; this guy Phillip Dixon. He was shooting British Vogue and Harper’s and just doing some wonderful stuff with all the supermodels. And I was kind of dropped into that world, totally by accident. I didn’t know anything about the business; I didn’t know about that world at all, but I was completely in love with it. Long story short, my background is in art history and painting and somehow I ended up painting some backgrounds for them. And then I just got totally drawn into the beauty end of things. And that was that! Essentially, I didn’t go home. I never lived in Canada full-time again.
That just started an amazing journey for me, a journey of discovering this whole world that I knew nothing about. I should say that I am — or was at that point — familiar with the beauty industry, per se. My mom was a hairstylist and she had been for as long as I could remember. My aunt and extended family worked for Estee Lauder. So I was familiar with it, but that’s a completely different end of the industry. I had never known about the photographic or the commercial ends of it. For me, it was a different thing altogether, and I was hooked.
You received your degree in Art History and painting from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. You described how you got from painting and art history to hair and makeup, but do you feel like your education in the arts has impacted your career as a beauty professional?
Oh, 100%. I draw on it all the time. Even now, to this day. I think it’s one of the things that maybe set me in a different category. It’s not better or worse. It’s just a different mindset of artistry. I didn’t go to beauty school, I didn’t do the typical roadmap to get into the industry. I have a painting background, so when I look at things, I see things from that perspective. I think in terms of texture and color and nuance and lighting. In my work, I’ll reference a painting or a painter more often than a photographer. There are tonalities to skin and things like that that you can manipulate now in photography, but they’re very painterly driven and historically painterly driven. So for me, that connection never changed at all. In fact, I would say as I go along and I see a lot of repeat trends over the years, I actually dig a little bit deeper into the art history end of things, to see if I can draw on something that is relevant for today to change up that flavor. The core of it might be a repeat or something that we’ve seen already. But I try to imbue it with something else; to make it modern. So in that sense, yeah, it’s constant. I look at art or fabric or nature to get a feeling of what I’m after.
You mentioned that your mom was a hairstylist; what was your family’s reaction to you pursuing work in the beauty industry?
Oh my god. Okay, well, that did not go well! For years after I moved to the US, my father and I had a once-a-week chat, and periodically he would throw in there; “so, when are you coming home and getting a real job?” He had no idea or understanding of what it was I actually did for a living. He had no clue what it meant, it just boggled his mind. My mother was the same. She was worried and she thought something terrible was going to happen to me. I was in LA at the time so I wasn’t even in New York. And for some reason, my folks, it turned out, were much more terrified about me being in Los Angeles, by myself. When I moved to New York, they were so happy that I was there. They were like, “oh my god, ok, she’s going to be ok.” And I was thinking, what? That’s so strange!
It wasn’t until I was on my own and I had finished assisting and putting in my years of trudging and cleaning millions of kits for other people that I was on my own and I was on a job in Connecticut. I was in Manhattan, but the shoot was in Connecticut. My folks were coming into town, and because I knew the photographer and I knew the team, I just said,
“Hey, would it be okay if my mom and dad came? I promise I’ll get a room for them. They are really chill, they’ll go off and do their own thing.” And everyone was super cool. They were like, “Yeah, have them come, yay, mom and dad!”
So they came! I had a car pick them up from the airport and drive them all the way to Greenwich, Connecticut. And they rolled up to this beautiful estate, where we were staying. I think we were starting to shoot the next day, but as you know, hair and makeup start first. We are up early before anybody else and we are usually wrapping up at the end of the day cleaning everything. So there I was, you know, with a couple of girls. We were making plans for the morning. My mom is listening to all this. My dad, of course, gets hooked on talking to the photographer.
The next morning, I have to start at like 4:30 AM because they want to catch the sunrise. So that means I have to get up at 3:30. So I get up and I hear this little knock on the door and it’s my mom! And I’m like,
“What are you doing? Why are you up?” She comes in and she says:
“Is there anything I can do? Can I make you tea?”
Well, from then on my mom became the “den mom” for that entire shoot. She saw firsthand what it was we did and how we did it. Everything. My dad, same thing. And of course, by this time, the photographer had invited my dad to shadow him, because my dad is an amateur photographer. So he’s like, “come over, Douglas, come over!” And then off they went!
So that was a magical, magical job. Because never again did they ask me: “when are you coming home?” They never asked me what it was I actually did for a living. They started asking me about the girls, the models, saying “oh, I saw her on the cover of whatever magazine!” Or asking “how are they?” or “how is the photographer?” or “are you getting enough sleep?” They started asking me questions about my job, which was amazing! And so that was it. After that, we were good.
I ask because I have noticed a bit of a theme: people who pursue work in any slew of creative industries can have a hard time selling it to their parents. But that visit to the set — that’s a great story.
I recommend it to all of my assistants. I’m like, listen, take a video. If they’re in town, get them to come and see and I swear they will change their minds. Because they [the parents] don’t know how hard it is. It’s not easy to do what we do. And to do it with grace, fun, and creativity on top of that is even harder. So when they see it happening, it’s really educational, I think, for everybody.
So you have had a very successful and long career already, freelancing with Kramer and Kramer, etc. You have clearly worked with some very influential and high-profile clients. What project (or projects) stands out as a major highlight of your career?
There’s a couple! So early in my career, I was asked to work with this photographer; her name is Joyce Tenneson. She worked on 20 by 24 inch Polaroid film. And that camera is this huge wooden camera. It looks like an old-fashioned camera but it has a giant roll of Polaroids. Joyce would do these incredible photographs of women and she had shows all over the world.
At some point, I was asked to work with her. It was for no money — I think we got prints, which nowadays is worth a small fortune. But the experience of working with her on those and with that particular camera… It’s like doing a still life on a human. The colors… Everything is just so beautiful. And the way she portrayed her women was right up my alley. It was this kind of weird, ethereal, distressed vibe, which I love. Like everything about it. The skin looked like it had been painted. The hair was marvelous. Everything about these girls was gorgeous. I remember this one girl had a neck that looked like it was like a mile long. It was just insane and beautiful.
So she was a highlight. Later on in my career, I did a shoot with Mary Ellen Mark, and I think she was a god. I loved everything about her. I loved the space where she worked. I loved her people. I loved her eye and her heart. She was amazing. And I got to work with her. Also, working with people like Grace Mirabella when she was at Vogue and then went and started her magazine. Working with those people; that was pretty awesome. To be in that timeframe when I was able to do that, and someone trusted me. Because I was pretty young! I didn’t know much, really, but I just managed to be around. And André, [André Leon Talley] of course. I think it was for Vanity Fair and it was way into his career. I was so in awe, I could hardly even say anything. I used to have a little magazine. My husband and I started an online magazine back in the 2000s and we ran it until 2012. In those days there weren’t any blogs or zines or even online magazines, hardly. Until we came along. We sort of built a little force, and we did pretty well. But I remember meeting him [André] at a show and he was just very complimentary of everything that we were doing. Our little engine that could. It was very cool. So those stick out in my head.
How were you inspired to start Kelley Quan NY, your line of namesake beauty products?
It kind of came out of what I thought was a necessity. Prior to me making my own, I used to buy all my brushes from Japan. There were a couple of manufacturers there where I bought these handcrafted brushes. They were very expensive, but you really take care of them and they do beautiful work. They help you to create what you want. But I could never find any that weren’t animal hair. So when I started realizing that there was a whole animal issue, I was like, hmm… What am I going to do about that?
I started looking around for alternatives, and basically what I came across was just plastic, crappy brushes. There weren’t any that even tried to mimic real hair in any way. And if they did, it was just a mono hair. So in other words, they created a hair-like bristle, but they used it for every single shape. Whereas typically in any makeup artist kit, there will be a multitude of hair types and fibers used because it does deliver the product in a different way. Each of them delivers it differently. That’s why we have a variety.
I just couldn’t find it. I started to look for a manufacturer here in the States because that was the other thing: most of these were made offshore and I wasn’t going to be able to travel over there very often. So I just started going to trade shows trying to find someone who would work with a small vendor. When you’re really tiny, they just don’t want to play with you because you’re not big enough. I remember going to this trade show at Javits Center in the city. It was like a three-day thing, and I’d been there for two days, and I was really discouraged. I found a lot of things, but nobody wanted to play with me, basically. But there was this one last building, and I was like, okay, I’m just going to go to this one last area, and then I’m out. If it doesn’t happen, I’m out. So I go, and I see this wall — what I call the vendors’ “wall of wonders,” — and I recognize a lot of the brushes. I’m looking at them and thinking, okay, this guy is pretty good, but they probably won’t want to play. So this man comes up and he says,
“Hey, can I help you?” and starts chatting me up.
I said, “oh, I’m probably not big enough for you, but I have a bunch of your brushes, they’re fabulous.”
So he said, “are you a makeup artist?” And I said yes. And he said, “what are you planning? What are you thinking of?”
So I give him the two-minute synopsis. Like, basically verbal vomit, right there. And he looks at me and goes, “okay, hang on a second. Don’t go away. I’ll be right back.”
He goes off into the back, comes back about a couple of minutes later, opens my hand, puts a business card in my hand, and says “okay, let’s have a conversation next week. You should come to my factory. We’re in Queens.”
And I was like, “okay!”
That was it. That was the beginning of an amazing collaboration with this firm that is privately owned and has been making brushes for almost 100 years. They’re still up [the brushes] but I haven’t produced any in a long time. I put in a lot of years but it’s really tricky; when you’re a freelancer and you have a successful freelance career, and you pursue another thing that starts having legs of its own, they start going into competition with each other. And I had a young family at the time, so I couldn’t really stop doing what was my moneymaker. Even though the beauty products were starting to make money, my freelance career was making me a living… more than a living. I wasn’t ready to give that up. And also, I’m in love with the industry. I love my job. It’s not a job for me; I love what I do. And I love the process of doing it even after all these years. It’s still really good for me. It feels good to be in that space. I wasn’t emotionally ready to let it go either.
So you’re currently based out of Hudson, NY. What brought you to the Hudson Valley?
My husband and I had been looking up here; not just the Hudson Valley, but looking everywhere for this kind of area. My husband David — he is a photographer — had come up here to shoot a job and came back to the city and said: I think I found our spot! But I don’t think it happened right away. I think it was the following year when we started really earnestly checking things out. One of our kids was getting ready to go to college and the other one was in high school, so we figured we could commute back and forth, you know, keep the city place, and then we could go upstate on the weekends and whatnot.
We started looking on both sides of the river, and we ended up in Hudson, and we saw our house! It looked really sad at the time — no one had lived in it for a while. We put an offer in on it, and that was it. Basically any time I wasn’t working or doing something that I had to be in the city for, I was up here. My husband moved up here full time sooner than I did because he can work anywhere. I commuted back and forth, and I’m not going to lie, that was really something. I was super super super busy and it was a little wild. There was a lot of mileage going on. But I don’t regret it at all. I was so ready to be up here and we were meeting some amazing people. That was the other thing — we realized there were so many people who were like us here, who were creative and interesting and came from all different kinds of backgrounds. It had this great vibe.
You are the co-founder of The Registry Creatives, a community for high-level creatives in the Hudson Valley and home of the TRC Zine. Can you describe the work you do with the Registry Creatives, for those who are hearing about it now for the first time?
The Registry Creatives is basically a hub of, as you said, experienced, really top-tier creatives. I use the word “creatives” because that’s a really open-ended term. It’s not limited to only people in my industry, you know, the beauty or fashion or photographic end of things. You can be a maker, you can be a chef; any kind of creative force who is doing their craft up here, in this area. Typically, what I’ve found is that most of the creatives on board have evolved into more than one thing. Like myself, they started with their career choice, whatever that is. And they’re really good at it. They’ve either come from a big city or a bigger hub, and they’ve migrated up here. So they have that really deep well of information and experience that they’re bringing to the region, but they want to find a way to do what they love to do up here. And from that, sometimes they’ve developed other assets as well.
What I’m trying to do is basically show a 360 view of each of the creatives. I want to give people an understanding of how rich and diverse these creatives are; that the reason why they are where they are, why they’re in demand, and why they have had the longevity in their careers is because they have this deep well of experience and they’ve creatively explored a lot of different avenues.
We’re not a job board. I have people asking me for names and help because they know that I know a lot of people up here, and I will gladly refer them to members. But our job is not to be a job hub. Our job is to be a champion for these creatives, because oftentimes what we’ve noticed is they are not so great at doing that for themselves. And also connecting creatives to other members is important. Already we’ve had several connections happen because they now know where to find each other; on the Registry. That melting pot of creativity — that to me is where real magic can happen. We’ll do our job to help showcase all of them, and hopefully, that’s going to generate even more eyes up to our area.
I noticed that on the website for the Registry, you reference the Hudson River School and America’s first canvas. Has the history and significance of the Hudson Valley as an artistic haven influenced you and your work here?
100%. That reference is not accidental. A lightbulb literally went off when I realized there are so many people up here that I’m meeting who are incredibly talented and have been doing their craft forever. This is no accident. It’s this whole area. Just by driving around, it’s not hard to see why. This has been going on for hundreds of years because it’s so vibrant and there’s such energy. The landscape, the light, the everything! And depending on which side of the river you’re on or where you are, it can have a completely different vibe. But all of them have an extreme amount of power. Once I kind of figured that out and understood that this has been going on for, you know, decades and hundreds of years, I realized: we are not the first people to have this feeling and we won’t be the last, either.
I think that the pandemic definitely dialed it up a few 1000 notches because people felt compelled to vacate any large place and be out in space and open air. But pandemic aside, this area has an influence that will never go away and I think it’s incredibly important. I can’t tell you what it is — there is a specific thing that makes this particular area different from other places for me. Because like I said, before we moved here, we looked at a lot of different areas. We looked in PA, New Jersey, Long Island; we were everywhere. They were all wonderful places. But I think for my husband and me — my husband is Scottish and I’m Canadian — something about this area felt more like home. Both of us felt there was a reminiscence of where we came from that made us feel like we had finally landed.
What are your goals for your future professionally and/or personally?
Professionally I just want to keep doing what I love to do. We haven’t actually touched on the whole COVID thing. It has been challenging, I’m not going to lie. I’m literally in people’s faces 24 hours a day. There is something that has changed since COVID, particularly this last round of COVID because it’s so contagious. On a recent job, three of my crew members tested positive while we were in Florida and it threw us into a complete tailspin. Things like that are happening, so my goal is to just still be able to do what I love to do safely and be around people that share the same kind of ethics as me and just keep doing the work.
As far as the Registry: in a bigger picture and in a perfect world, what I would really love is for the Registry to get big enough to where I can switch gears a little bit, so the Registry could be my full-time gig, and then I can also do my freelance stuff. Because that would mean that I’m interfacing with a lot of different creatives and — since I’m very project-driven — it means that I’ll probably have a lot of projects that I can tackle as well. I love to collaborate, so I hope that’s part of the whole mix too; an ability to collaborate with a lot more brands or vendors or creatives or all of the above.
Is there anything you wish you could tell yourself back when you were first starting out in this field?
Oh, god. Yeah. I’d say: don’t take yourself so seriously.
There was a woman that I came up with — her name was Sarah — and Sarah and I started around the same time. She’s from Minnesota, and she was probably one of the loveliest humans I met when I was coming into New York. We became really good friends. I guess we’d been about 10 years in — after we assisted together, we apprenticed together, and then went out on our own and started working — and we were at some party. It was a whole bunch of us and we were all talking and she turned to me at one point and said,
“Oh my God, you were impossible back then! You weren’t, like, impossible. You were so serious. Everything. Everything was about work. You lived. you breathed, you dreamt makeup. Like this business… that was it! That’s all you had.” And she was a good friend. So I looked at her and I was like, really? I go,
“Yeah, I guess I’m kind of driven that way. I don’t know. I’m just built like that.”
She’s like, “yeah, you’re having way more fun now. That makes me happy.”And I never, ever thought about it at the time. But I was very, very, very hyper-focused. I think that I would love to tell my younger self: enjoy the ride. It’s not about the end game. It’s about everything that happens in between, the people you meet, and how you get there. I was so focused on a goal, that the in-between was like a blur.
Now for some lighter questions: what are some of your favorite local businesses or places to visit in the Hudson Valley?
Well, I love art, so there’s Storm King and there’s Art Omi, which I love. I’ve been spending a lot more time in Kingston because a lot of my friends are there and it’s an easy drive for me. In Hudson, we have Olana which is really beautiful to walk through. I’m also kind of fascinated with Behida [Behida Dolić Millinery]. She’s this hat maker in Hudson, but she started making clothes and there’s something very European and whimsical about them. I’m kind of fascinated with her. And I do love The Maker, especially the lounge, it’s very nice. I’m still discovering stuff!
And finally – what is your personal go-to makeup/skincare routine to get ready for your day?
Mine is super simple. For sure since having kids but even before that; I’m a makeup artist, like many of us, who doesn’t wear a ton of makeup. I’m definitely not a full-face kind of gal. For skincare, I’m obsessed with The Ordinary and the whole suite of brands from The Ordinary. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that company. I use Hylamide, which is their intermediate line, as well as The Ordinary, and I also use NIOD, which is their high-end line. There’s a ton of products they have that I have used for years now and I just love them.
I’m also a big proponent of tinted moisturizers or a BB cream base tint, so I’ll do that. I love multitaskers, so give me a good multitasking highlighter and blush and I am all over that. You can use it as a little lip tint and a little on your eyes and a little on your cheeks and you’re good to go. And then the other thing that I’m really obsessed with right now, and I never thought I’d say this because these things never used to work: eye serum. I use the Rodan and Fields Lash Boost, and I have to tell you that in the month and a half I’ve been using it, my lashes have tripled. It’s expensive, I’m not going to lie. But one tube will last you three months or more.
But here’s the trick, and they don’t tell you this. When you open it up, it’s got a typical liner brush. But those liner brushes are just way too thick. They deposit too much product. So two things will happen: you’ll waste half of it, and if you use that much product on your eyes, you’ll probably have a sensitivity to it because it’s very, very potent. So what I do is I use a very fine liner brush from my kit instead of the brush from the product. It will make the product last longer, but it will also deposit the right amount without any kind of irritation.
The other thing that I discovered, which is so amazing, is Thrive Mascara. Thrive Causemetics makes this mascara — and this stuff does not come off. There are a few other brands I’m kind of obsessing about right now. Merit is really good. And ILIA beauty has some great products. And Bobbi Brown came out with this new cosmetic brand — Jones Road — which has some really great products. The highlighting balm is really nice. I also have the Merit beauty one. I tend to like products that have a little more moisture to them, especially living up here in the wintertime. You’ve got to have a little extra stuff. And I just like the way it feels; I don’t like to feel like I have products on my skin. So those are the kinds of things I kind of gravitate to.